Yes, There was an Egyptian Pyramid in Rural Australia with a Basement Full of Human Teeth

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Caspers World in Miniature was a theme park in Victoria, Australia, a bit over half way between Adelaide and Melbourne. I don’t have a definitive source, but I believe it opened in 1976. My one and only visit to Caspers was in 2008, to break up that same, long drive. It’s taken me that much time to come to terms with what we found there.

Despite looking like it, The World in Miniature wasn’t abandoned. The owners still lived out front and we paid to enter. However, it was empty. Outdated exhibitions on unloved grounds. Our detour seemed destined to be a disappointment.

Then we got to the basement of the pyramid, and that’s where we found all the human teeth.

And that’s just the start.

And that’s just the start.

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If you met yourself from the future, what would you ask your future self?
What if they wont tell you anything?

The Bradism Guide to 2018 Tracksuit Pant Technology

I feel like - at this point in my life - I have gotten the hang of winter, and this year I haven’t overreacted about how fucking cold and miserable it is. By age 33 I’ve learnt about base layers and insulation, and from the end of May I pack away all my dri-fit shorts and hang out my four pairs of Merino socks to rotate through each day with infrequent washes until ducklings.

I keep the blinds open during the day to let the sunlight in, then close them when I get home in the evenings to check on the slow cooker. There’s linen sheets on the bed, oats in my belly. I’ve taken charge of winter. The above-average temperatures, and half the usual rainfall has nothing to do with my dominance.

While I have been killing it, and never complained once about how it’s dark from 5pm and the sunlit time only increases in length by like twenty seconds each day for weeks, one area I haven’t quite hit five-stars in the metrics is tracksuit pants. While outside the house I am generally toasty and not being whipped by Antarctic winds which are specifically targeting the face that often, inside the house I’m still wearing a pair of tracksuit pants I bought in 2008. And they were specifically the same model as the much-loved pair I’d lost and needed to replace. What amazing advances in tracksuit pant technology over the past decade had I been missing out on?

With some overtime pay in my pocket, I set out to ask the sportswear sales assistants of Adelaide, “What is the best, most technologically advanced pair of tracksuit pants you’ve got?” And this is what I found out.

If you haven’t really thought about trackpants technology recently, I will provide a brief summary of this complicated science. The goal of a good pair of tracksuit pants is to be soft and flexible, while also being restrictive enough to trap the warm air from your body within the pant legs.

The first component of this leg warming is achieved through the material of the pants.

The first pair I tried were the Adidas Tech Sweatpant, which were soft to the touch, and had the word tech in their name. I had high hopes. Their tag claimed they were a 59% polyester / 41% cotton knit. That was awfully specific, I thought. It must be the peak level of tracksuit pant material technology. Forget rounding to a whole number and calling it a day, Adidas tracksuit scientists had clearly tried every possible permutation of polyester and cotton and this is what they came up with. I carried a large pair into the changeroom, and this is what I found.

The second component of leg warming, the fit of the garment.

The second component of leg warming, the fit of the garment.

In the promo shot, some model with literally no calves gives the impression these pants will hang comfortably from knee to ankle. After squeezing my hoofers through the leg-holes it became apparent what I’d missed out on in tracksuit pants’ evolution since 2008. We were now doing slim fit.

This shook me a little. Surely they couldn’t all be like this. For those unaware, the closer the pant clings to the leg, the tighter the seal at the ankle, the more heat the pants will trap. But this was unreasonable. What if you wanted warm legs, but also wanted to walk up stairs? I passed the pants back to the salesperson and left.

Day Two
I still hadn’t spent that overtime pay. I visited the Nike store, went up several flights of stairs. That had to be a good sign, I thought. What cruel fate would put the tracksuit pants at the top of three flights of stairs if you couldn’t walk up the stairs wearing them.

That’s a little snug.

That’s a little snug.

Despite what the salesperson tried to tell me, the Nike pants were almost identical to the Adidas pants, except with a swoosh instead of stripes.
Although, I did like how the Nike tracksuit pant scientists had engineered a shell of non-absorbent polyester into the lap of the pants.

Those tracksuit scientists clearly knew that users would be eating big bowls of stir fry on the couch in these units.

Those tracksuit scientists clearly knew that users would be eating big bowls of stir fry on the couch in these units.

Week Four
A few weeks passed before I had the resolve to again try to find the pair of track pants I deserved. The first thing I noticed upon walking into the sportswear store is that, by this point in July, the tracksuit pant choices were running low. And, the styles which remained were stocked only in the odd sizes of XXL and XXXS. (Yes, I do appreciate the irony of calling out odd sizes while carrying around calves the size of footballs).
I had no idea that tracksuit pants had seasons, and that the sportswear store was probably clearing shelf space preparing for their dri-fit shorts sale to sell to every sucker who gets excited about ducklings.

Among the dregs on the clearance rack I found a pair in a colour I probably wouldn’t have chosen, and was immediately excited by the “Relaxed Fit” wording on the tag. With material as soft as down, I slipped them on and stood.

My first thought was, for a relaxed fit, they looked almost too formal.

My first thought was, for a relaxed fit, they looked almost too formal.

While they did cling to my lower legs a little, I could stand and sit and bend. Outside the wind howled, and I just knew that my house would smell like wet dog that night, so I figured seeing I was handling winter with such little complaint that I would buy these pants and call my quest complete.

They were also the only pair left in a Large.

The sportswear sales assistants of Adelaide were relieved.

Five Lessons from Speculate 18

Speculate was the inaugural Speculative Fiction Writers festival, held in South Melbourne on a clear, chilly autumn Saturday.

A great assortment of authors, scholars and others from the writing community shared their wisdom and experiences, too much for me to summarise in a review. Instead, I thought I'd share a single takeaway and challenge from each of the sessions:

Session 1 - The Once and Future Fantasy.

The opening session of the day spoke about the realm of fantasy, from origins to now.
On the topic of tropes, and Tolkien’s influence on the fantasy genre, the panel discussed how Tolkien’s races were inspired by his desire to create a mythology for England at the time of his writing.
Similarly, superheroes like Spiderman and Captain America were born out of cultural fears of their era, like radiation, and Nazis.
Challenge: If you feel like there are no original characters left, look at what's in the public consciousness now. What defines contemporary times? What are people afraid of? Leverage that.


Session 2 - The Language of Imagination.

Hair is 90% of your selfie, proclaimed a salon’s curbside chalkboard that I passed on the way to Speculate. It's also the first thing 90% of writers use to describe their characters, according to the second panel. Alison Arnold argued that the less you show of a character, the more the reader can invest with their own imagination.
Challenge: While there was debate about how much, or little, of a character's demographics and appearance should be described, the request was made to rely less on hair.


Session 3 - Science Fiction: The Past, the Present, and What's to Come.

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The rapid pace of technological change (in contrast to the slow speed of the traditional publishing process) means speculative fiction at the time of writing might be out of date by the time it's written.
Aurealis co-editor Dirk Strasser listed some 2018 trends in the science fiction genre: Cli-Fi, social-issues space-opera, generation ships, and gender identity.
Before taking this as a challenge to cram all those plots into a single story, consider
Sean McMullen’s monologue about how all future trends had been done before, and even the ideas we think are modern were technically possible decades earlier.
Challenge: Go back to the past - the conflicts, struggles and characters of yesteryear - to find fresh inspiration for the future. Time is cyclical anyway.


Session 4 - Dungeons & Development: Character Under Pressure.

The post-lunch session gave me chills, because of the live string section who knew just the right moment of the roleplaying display to fade in with a long note from a violin.
The Dungeons and Dragons scenario was part narrative, part improv, and highlighted the importance of giving characters three dimensions, and the ability to make mistakes.
Challenge: Write characters strong and deep enough to mess up, and then recover. What the author knows is the wrong decision might seem like genius to the character, and stimulate new, unexpected conflict.


Session 5 - Setting: Colouring the Pages.

The final session. Four seated authors, illuminated under the warm spotlights of the dark theatre, spoke to setting and its importance.
Setting is non-negotiable, its the world the author delivers to the reader, and without it the tale loses its authenticness.
Alison Goodman spoke about aesthetic cohesion, that the setting should be in service of characters, to bring out the best in them, or test them in the most interesting ways.
Challenge: Identify in your work were setting and character are adjacent, but not touching. For example, instead of “It was cold,” it could be “The freezing air stung her cheeks.” Or, “the blizzard concealed her attackers from view, they circled each other, footsteps in the field disappearing under fresh powder as quick as they were spotted.”

Did I mention that Melbourne was chilly?

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How to Tamper With Your Legacy

What do Steve Smith, Barnaby Joyce, Harvey Weinstein and Martha Stewart all have in common?

Like so many other celebrities, politicians, business-people and app developers, they don't think the rules should apply to them.

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The farcical level of disrepute the Australian cricket team brought to their sport today was yet another example of arrogant humans in a position of power or superiority choosing to believe they are above the law.
In this absurd case, only the laws of cricket, but it simply highlights the recurring theme that human beings will always try to find ways to cheat to benefit themselves.
Whether it be trying to win a game, trying to make money, trying to get sex, trying to take power, nothing changes. We establish rules for ourselves, then we break them.
It's not only those in power. You probably break rules too. Pirating software, using a phone while driving, printing personal documents on the office printer, self-scanning expensive produce for lower prices, overestimating work-related expenses on your tax return.
Not everyone, of course, but enough for a pattern to emerge.
Human beings are cheaters, it's biological. We wouldn't be where we are without pushing the boundaries. The first fish to walk on land was breaking the rules. How did mammoths feel when we cheated and used stone tools? How many steps forward has our species taken by trying to gain an unfair advantage?
It doesn't excuse the modern day cheats, they should know better. We all should, but the justifications they made would be like the ones in everyone else's head when we break the rules. Psychological camouflage for what's really happening under the hood. The only thing between you and what you want is an abstract concept and a perceptible risk.

So should we just cheat? Everyone drop the act, step back to survival of the fittest?
It depends how much longer we want to survive on this planet. The evolutions of our technology has outpaced our own. We wield power beyond what our meaty brains can holistically understand.
Funnily enough, we're actually heading in the right direction. Every time corruption or deception generates public attention, it indicates we're coming closer to self-governance. It might seem slow, or overwhelming, but it's happening.
Of course, the better we govern ourselves, the more innovative cheaters will become. We've seen that this week too, regarding revelations about Cambridge Analytica, and the evidence of flaws in our social media platforms.
My preference would be for a global AI to take charge, but I don't think we've progressed to that stage yet. It would probably turn on us, or never get out of beta while project costs spiral higher. More likely, it will be hit with security flaws, or someone will find loopholes.
Sadly, that's what we do.

What's a Like Worth?

When it comes to businesses on social media, A 2013 investigation estimated every like has a value somewhere between $214 and zero.

TL;DR - It's probably zero, as most of the time users who like a business are already customers.

So, do likes help create sales? Probably not, according to Harvard Business Review, whose article clearly demonstrates a lot more research into the topic than what I did while on the couch today. Under proper controls, sales don’t show much change between those who have and have not liked a page.

Yet, my new year’s resolution for 2018 is to like more stuff on the internet.

The internet of today is different to the one I grew up on. Back in the day, posting of personal information, things like surnames and photos, felt about as natural as giving out your home address to strangers on the night bus.
Something changed over the years, and that something was Facebook. Since 2007, social media, and phones with cameras have completely flipped the way humanity interacts with the internet. Millions of people who had never heard the connecting sounds of a dial up modem began to flood the internet with pictures of their face, their food, their pets. Other things...

Liking things, with a Twitter heart or a Facebook reaction or Instagram love is another form of sharing personal information. Almost always, a face and a name gets included in those interactions. It's for this reason my old web instincts have prevented me from trigger happy like-clicking. From 2018, that's changed.

Why? Whether you like it or not, the likes of you and your connections define the viewpoint of what you see on social media. The algorithms behind your newsfeed filter and tweak to deliver content based on likes. This means that failing to like and share the things you think are funny or important can lead to things you don't think are funny or important taking priority on the newsfeed of your contacts, and falling out of prominence entirely.

Liking things is also a great way to support content creators and connect them to a wider audience. It might not lead to sales - sharing and word of mouth is better for that - but it can help a little with extending exposure. And thumbs up, hearts, and most of the other emojis are like little forms of encouragement too.

It’s not only content creators that get happy feelings from seeing likes. Everyone does! In 2018, the time of pretending we’re not influenced by social media’s algorithms is finished. Of course we all want likes and upvotes and validation. A society where social media rankings determine our self worth and employment opportunities is still a long way off, so we should revel in this segment of the twenty-first century where sending a positive vibe to someone anywhere in the world is as simple as clicking a mouse button or pressing a thumb down on the glass of a phone screen. Be a light in the darkness. Shape or disrupt the echo chambers you’re stepping into every day. Like things, because the opposite is not liking anything, and who wants to do that?

P.S. You may notice that I don’t embed social media widgets on my website, because my old school thinking is still that we shouldn’t tell Facebook and Twitter Analytics all the pages we visit. If you want to follow on social media, you can find me on Twitter, Facebook and, occasionally, Instagram.

Mundane Things I Do Well - Fast Walking

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I’m standing, waiting in a crowd at a ‘Don’t Walk’ sign in the city. On the other side of the road I need to go right, but there’s going to be people crossing beside me who will force me to slow down. That’s when I spot the traffic-light post on the opposite side of the street. It makes eye-contact back and lifts up a fist. The pick is set.

Welcome to the first entry in a series about the mundane things that I do incredibly well.

My journal is a place to celebrate things I’m good at in life, but none of my abilities are what are traditionally thought of as great or noteworthy. I won’t be winning critical awards, recognition for technical expertise within my industry, or athletic gold medals. But, there are little things in life which offer their own opportunities for excellence. Things you probably already practice every day, without realising it’s something you might be capable of being incredibly good at.

Today’s topic, fast walking.... Which I guess actually is an Olympic sport, but anyway...

One of the things people tell me whenever we walk somewhere together for the first time is, “Brad, you walk so fast.” Often they will make reference to my long legs, as if that explains everything. Long legs are helpful for fast walking, but they’re not required. There are other techniques and strategies that even the stubbiest legged person can use. What distinguishes a great fast walker is not their legs, but their head.

Before we talk about how to walk fast, let’s reflect on why we want to. Walking fast has so many benefits in daily life:

  • You move between places quicker. That could mean an extra thirty seconds of sleep in the morning, or the ability to reach a far away shop and get back to your desk without exceeding the length of your lunch break.
  • It burn more calories
  • You can look important and busy
  • It’s easier to escape awkward social interactions, and chuggers

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I keep an eye on the road’s traffic lights, and when they turn amber I am primed for my own light to change to green. I step off the curb, already angling my shoulders slightly right to cross the road on the hypotenuse.

Beside me a man is also striding briskly, and he’s on my right. Locomotion and reflexes are core facets of fast walking, but they’re not unique, so he and I are evenly matched. If I want to continue minimising the distance travelled to go left once I’m over the road I will have to either cut him off, which would be impolite, or I need to slow down a step to cut behind him.

That would be if I hadn’t already lined myself up with the traffic light pole before I started crossing. When we reach the opposite curb our trajectories are taking my shoulder right past the pole, and the man’s path straight into it. I slide past the screen and into open footpath, alone. A demonstration of good versus great fast walking has just been given to those still ambling halfway across the crossing. I don’t see the man again.

Using inanimate objects as screens isn’t the only benefit a basketball background brings to fast walking. At its essence, a skilled fast walker is not so good at moving fast as they are at moving smoothly. Anyone can hustle uncontrollably towards a destination, just hang out by the train station in the afternoon peak hour and see. There will always be obstacles, both stationary and moving, between your feet and where you want to go. The ability to pivot, move laterally, and euro-step as appropriate will be the difference between getting to your location quickly, and walking up the back of an old woman with a walking frame accidentally. The most important thing is feeling in control of your movement. If you don’t feel confident, you will not hit your top speed, and a truly great fast walker will soon overtake you.

Sometimes, while walking fast in a sea of slow walkers, it’s possible to become self conscious about the gait or bob your pace brings with it. Any hesitation caused by this image management will slow you down. A true fast walker must block out all negative thoughts. A good pair of black sunglasses and/or some noise cancelling headphones playing something upbeat will solve that problem.

Breadism III

2011. I had a bread addiction.

When the psychiatrist asked me to think of situations that triggered my behaviour, I answered Woolworths bakery, close to the end of the day.

He showed me an inkblot, symmetrical and jagged, like the crossbones of a roadkill Jolly Roger.
"What do you see?" he said.
"A Mocha Hot Cross Bun."

Flashbacks from six years ago. My last relapse, sucking down a six-pack a day. Buying a dozen with the intent of freezing buns that were never frozen.

I thought it was all behind me, that my penchant for those delicious, sweet bread-sacks of wheat, chocolate and coffee had gone stale. After all, Jesus had risen, Woolworths stopped selling them, and in the years that followed I never even felt the urge to eat them again.

Then, in 2017, I saw the sticker.

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Not just that sticker, but the other sticker too.

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Later I would discover Woolworths stopped making them after 2011. I guess those piles of packs marked down for clearance were because the bakers shared my lack of impulse control. For whatever reason, six years later, they decided to bring them back.
Mocha Hot Cross Buns - The Resurrection.

I'll just buy a packet and eat them for the sake of a journal entry, my brain lied. It wasn't really my thoughts. It was the voice. The whispering of addiction. Would I be foolish enough to break bread with that monkey on my back? The voice told me it would be okay. The voice told me one wouldn't hurt.
"I don't think so," I told the voice.

We got home from food shopping. The buns were on the top of the bag. Adding them to my trolley, putting the self-service checkout on mute, using a 5.25% discounted Woolwoths E-Gift Card at the register, ignoring the checkout assistant, stealing a pump of her hand sanitiser as I left. I didn't remember any of this. The voice had whispered in my ear the whole time, keeping me complicit.

It was debatably morning tea time. I unwrapped the plastic and pulled one free, placing it in the microwave on a sheet of paper towel. It was almost all muscle memory. The 10sec button once, the 1sec button seven times. Too long and it would burn me. Too short and it would maintain too much structural integrity. Seventeen seconds The perfect amount of microwaving to bring the bun to that ideal penumbra between food and delicious, chocolatey nourishment goo. I slurped it down, deaf to the world and the feelings of guilt and shame and regret. There was only thing I could think of.

"More," said the voice. Mocking me. It was back. "You forgot to take a photo. Eat another one."

I tried to recall the 12 Step Program and I heard the voice say, "Two more six packs."

By lunchtime the packet was down to 2. In a sudden moment of clarity I considered flushing the rest down the toilet, but that joke was only funny when I was renting. I felt anger, confusion and, according to the voice, hunger.

Worse, I hadn't even thought of a single good thought to journal about my relapse.

"Relax," said the voice. "You have until April 16."

I stared at the remaining two buns, slick with doughy-sweat on the inside of the packet. The bread tie all that separated me from another backwards step. And I replied to the voice, "No."

No. I was not the same person I was in 2011. My base metabolic rate was 40 calories per day higher then. Also I have a wife and a dog now.

The voice said something, I couldn't make it out. It's strength was crumbling.

Those two buns sat in the pantry for another seven days, waiting for me to falter. I never faltered.

At the end of the week they were weak, drying. They still looked edible.
"Eat them," the voice begged as I opened the garbage bin. "The flavour, the texture, the fuzzy feeling in the brain. Eat them."

"Who are you talking to right now?" I said. "Who is it you think you see? You clearly don't know who you're talking to, so let me clue you in. You are not the flavour, bread. I am the flavour! A guy opens his door and gets crossed and you think that of me? No...

I am the one who mochs."

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